We don’t yet know how to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but scientists are learning more about what increases or decreases our risk of developing it – and one of those risk factors seems to be the diet we’ve become accustomed to in the Western world.
A new review of 38 previous studies from the last five years identifies the Western diet pattern as a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s in mild-to-moderate cases of the disease.
On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet, the ketogenic dietand diet supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics appear to protect against the disease, but only in mild-to-moderate cases.
Researchers from several institutions in China suggest that dietary changes may be a way of reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia and limiting the damage it does to our cognitive abilities.
“Certain nutritional interventions may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and improve cognitive function and quality of life,” to write the researchers in their published paper.
In the studies reviewed, these “nutritional interventions” improved cognitive function and quality of life for those with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. They also seem to slow the progression of the disease.
Although we do not know what causes Alzheimer’s, we do know that it causes the development of amyloid-beta (Aβ) peptides and tau protein clusters in the brain, leading to the destruction of neurons that are key to thinking and remembering.
Based on research, the way dietary choices affect inflammation may be key here: Western diets high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt can put our bodies under too much stress, which somehow becomes more vulnerable to dementia.
“The main mechanisms are based on the reduction of oxidative stress and inflammation and a lower accumulation of Aβ peptides,” to write the researchers.
The Mediterranean diet is high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and seafood, while the ketogenic diet is a very specific, high-fat, low-carbohydrate approach to eating. As the researchers note, the keto diet is not without risk in terms of general health and should be used in consultation with a doctor.
Dementia is thought to affect more more than 50 million people worldwide in 2020, and that number continues to rise. Thinking of ways to reduce risk while the search for a cure continues can make a big difference.
Work continues to understand how diet relates to Alzheimer’s disease and the mechanisms at play – but this study and others like it help give scientists a more accurate picture of how it affects what we eat is in the brain.
“The results showed that nutritional interventions are capable of slowing the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease, improving cognitive function, and improving the quality of life of these patients,” to write the researchers.
“However, many knowledge gaps remain to be investigated; therefore, a more in-depth study on the relationship between nutrition and Alzheimer’s disease is recommended.”
The research was published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.